Dangers Reading Micro Expressions

Dangers of Reading Micro Expressions

Do We Really Want People to Learn How to Spot Micro Facial Expressions?

Dangers Reading Micro Expressions

June 21, 2017

The truth about micro expressions

By definition, micro expressions leak emotions that people don’t want others to know they are feeling. Sometimes, even the person showing the micro is not aware of the emotion that is leaking out. Studying this phenomenon for over fifty years, I decided to provide others the opportunity to see what I could and learn how to read micro expressions.

Reading micro expressions

When I developed the original micro expressions training tools, my intention was to make reading micro expressions a learnable skill. Using these training tools enables those who study it to take information from people attempting to conceal their emotions (and, in a sense, they are stealing this information). While I encourage its use for enhancing emotional awareness and empathy, I feel it is my responsibility to also issue a warning about the dangers of emotional learning.

Legal rights and micro expressions

Who has the right to do that — to tear away the curtain’s disguise? Certainly Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), although I have argued (a bit rhetorically) that LEOs who have been trained to spot micros should offer those they talk to the opportunity to wear a mask or facial cover.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution protects us from self-incrimination, but micros may provide the Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) who took our training just such incriminating information- just what the person involuntarily showing the micros doesn’t want a LEO to know. Would it be in the spirit of the Fifth Amendment for LEOs who have learned how to spot micros to at least inform those they interview that they have been specially trained to take this information- to invade privacy without consent? Should they offer criminal suspects the right to wear a mask to preserve their Fifth Amendment protection?

Moral rights and micro expressions

Many people (lawyers, business operators, salespersons) whose interests are not always the same as those whose micros they learn to spot, can now (without forewarning) invade privacy, taking information without permission that the provider would not want them to have. I never thought about these issues when I developed micro expressions training tools, but I recognize that my training courses enable an invasion of a very private realm of people’s lives: the feelings they don’t want everyone (and sometimes, no one) to know they are experiencing.

And yet, such an invasion of privacy can serve the public good. It helps the health care provider – doctor, nurse, or other caregiver – tune in and, therefore, be better able to help.

Now what?

I once thought that I might be able to control who else would be able to use my trainings to learn to read micro expressions, but I learned from my colleagues in the Department of Defense that there is no way to do that. A tool, once created and accessible on the internet, is available to everyone who pays the nominal price. All I can hope, my Defense Department colleagues advised, is that it will be used more for what I consider to be good, to help people, than to harm or exploit people.

The proverbial cat is out of the bag, free to go anywhere!

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

Comments 4

  1. A question for Dr. Ekman. I have worked as a therapist with sociopaths, some even a bit delusional. They sometimes seem to fully believe their ‘stories’. Do they still betray themselves to the same extent as ‘normal people’? Secondly have you or your associates thought of combining Face recognition technology with an automatic micro-expression program as an app on a smart phone (with voice tremor detection capacity perhaps) to be used to filter out deception? Seems feasible to me if not exactly easy. If deception became an nonissue and trust a norm would that not transform not only politics but society as a whole?

  2. Good evening,

    I study psychology and just received test results: I got a bad mark for saying that fear shows up across cultures as the same micro expression. I said the same for anger. That also was marked as wrong.
    I sent them a message asking them to correct their test. 😉

    If they wont admit their mistake, would you back me up in an email? 🙂

  3. Hola Dr EKman I’m a Chinese.Huge fan of you. But I don’t really know how to use the tools. And really wish to meet you sir. when you can travel to China Harbin. I really want to learn some real thing from you.

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